Thursday 20 December 2012

Respiratory Infection in Chickens

Amelia Update

Picked up Amelia yesterday afternoon.  The Vet described a lump of infectious material, over an ulcer on her larynx about 1cm x 1.5 cm 1 cm.  He was unable to insert a breathing tube during the operation as her throat is no impacted and swollen, so in fact her air supply was cut off during the procedure.  She has antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for the next week to 10 days. 
I noticed immediately that she is not wheezing and coughing constantly and that her face is bright red, rather than a sluggish, dark pink - which was probably due to a reduction in her oxygen levels.  Once back in her hutch, she was able to sit down and tuck her neck in - again, something she could not do the other day as it limited her breathing capacity.  I found her sleeping deeply after an hour or so.

Amelia - Sleeping finally.  She must have been exhausted.
Reunited Amelia with her sister Rosa last night and the two of them had a chat - Amelia is not able to speak properly as yet but it was a genuinely pleasing sign that she is trying to do so.  Amelia had a drink for what must have been the first time by herself in a couple of days.  She looked so happy and relieved.  She drank more deeply than I've ever seen by a hen before.  They both slept inside and this morning I found the two of them eating together - seed, wet bread, boiled egg.  I did crop feed Amelia about 40mls of feeding solution via a tube down her esophagus this morning and this should keep her happy until I get home to her tonight.  I'm not too worried as she is eating small amounts constantly by herself since she has arrived home. 
We have an appointment next week at the Vet.  The Vet suspects there may be an abscess further down her throat but he was not able to tell due to the swelling at the moment.  I'm feeling really hopeful of a good recovery for her.  

Amelia - one day after her operation.  Got her colour back.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Respiratory Infection in Chickens

Amelia Update

Spoken to Veterinary staff who have Amelia and she is feeling much more comfortable today.  She is not 'out of the woods' but is able to return home - no doubt with a few kilos of medication in tow.  We'll see how she goes over the next several days on her new medication. 
Here's Rosa this morning - eagerly awaiting Amelia's return. 

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Respiratory Infection in Chickens

Amelia Update

Amelia's respiratory infection has gone downhill very quickly in the last week.  Amelia went broody and took to her next for most of the day and consequently ate and drank very little.  This made her quite susceptible to the mycoplasma getting a leg up again.  
Amelia - broody and beautiful. 

On Saturday Amelia was taken to the Vet and a sample was taken from inside her throat.  Amelia was swallowing constantly, wheezing and coughing regularly.   Today I took her back to the Vet for her results.  Amelia has four different types of bacteria on the go in her throat.  Streptococcal and E. Coli and two others that I should have written down.  Anyway, the Vet says that he really feels that these are all secondary behind the bigger problem - mycoplasma that won't lie down and surrender to the last 5 weeks of antibiotics.  Amelia was with me all day and she gasped and coughed and struggled all through it.  I have had to crop feed her by running a tube down her throat.  It is so painful for her.  Today she went blue and struggled to keep standing as she tried to get her breath back after a failed attempt (one of about 20) to insert the tube.  It was mortifying. I also noticed a disgusting build up just past her tongue that looked like a deposit of scrambled eggs.  
At the Vet this afternoon the Vet was extremely concerned about this build up on her throat and immediately admitted her for surgery this evening.  He likened it to the build up that can result from Diphtheria - an ulcer that gets smothered by bacteria and thickens rapidly.   So basically this mass has grown significantly in just a few days and now it is obstructing her breathing, preventing her from eating and if it keeps growing at this rate, it will asphyxiate her.  
I have just received a call from the Vet to report that the mass has been removed - leaving an ulcer behind.  Her larynx is in terrible shape and he is very concerned for her.  He has given her steroidal anti-inflammatories and injected her with anti-biotics. He sounds very worried and I keep having thoughts of Amelia's sister Rosie being by herself.  They love each other so much.  When they are apart and then see each other again they run to each other, talking away and welcoming each other back.  They are so beautiful and it would break my heart and Rosie's too if Amelia were to pass away.
I am calling the Vet tomorrow morning for an update.  Less than a week ago this wasn't even on the cards.  Evil, vindictive mycoplasma.  I miss my Amelia.  It's her first night without Rosie in over a year, that makes me so sad for both of them.
Sweet dreams my baby Amelia.  We love you. xx  

Rosie and Amelia - Sunday 9th December

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Grandpa's Feeders - Review

We took the plunge and purchased a standard size Grandpa's Feeder.  It's not cheap but we're hoping it will resolve some years old issues with the girls grain feeding.  

Why we Bought the Grandpa's Feeders

  • The girls flick their seed all over the place and waste a lot of it,
  • The seed is difficult to clean up completely (it gets in to the sand) and so provides a regular source of food for rats at night,
  • The food is exposed to the rain and has to be thrown out at the end of the day if it has gotten wet,
  • Every night we have to thoroughly clean up the pen to remove excess seed, it would be great not to have to do this and 
  • We currently have to remove the seed bowl every night and bring it inside the house, it would be nice not to have to do this but still have the seed kept safe.
Here it is - installed and ready for customers. 
In order to get the girls interested we fed them their usual variety for the day, until every thing was finished except for the seed in the new feeder.  There was a lot of frustration from the flock.  They were very afraid of the feeder and not hungry enough to get past that fear.  Closer to sunset I went out with a treat, crushed peanuts.  They were so excited.  I poured a couple of teaspoons straight in to the feeder.  Overcome by their hunger and excitement, several of them stood straight on to the feeder's stand and ate happily.  
The next day one or two ate from the feeder but it still is a point of concern.   

Day 3:
The girls showed some tentative interest in the feeder, though mostly this was in how they could eat from it without properly standing on the foot plate.  This was proving rather frustrating as this is technically impossible and the closest they could get was one foot completely on and the other foot mostly on.  At the very end of the day, after some time in the garden, they were all returned to the pen and the only food available was from the feeder.  They completely forgot their fear and jumped straight on to it and eat heartily.  

Day 5:
Oooooo.  A couple of the girls got straight on to the feeder when they got out of the hutch this morning.  Only for a few seconds though. Interesting.

Holly - the pioneer of the feeder.  First in, well fed. 
Day 6:
Now we're talking.  The girls were completely fearless on the feeder this morning.  Even the Wyandotte bantams were in to it and they are the most timid.  Hopefully in a few days we can move to phase two.  There were four girls feeding at once this morning.   

Day 9:
Moved on to phase 2 - where the feeder is part way up so the girls activate it when they step on to the foot plate.  They are very upset.  The footplate bounces and the lid makes a sharp noise when it shuts.  They have avoided it all afternoon, even though they have been ravenous.  So I placed three of them on to it and held them there until they started eating.  They ate and ate and ate.  I'm not sure when they'll get over this latest obstacle.   
Angie - On strike from the feeder

Day 13:
Oh they are hating that bouncing footplate.  Each afternoon I am holding hens on to it until they start eating.  But then they step off, it makes a noise and the girls all run away and we start over again.  Not sure how much longer to keep pursuing it.  The girls eat their greens and their corn on the cob in the morning and then seem to spend the day trying to eat from the feeder without actually standing on the foot stand - which isn't possible.  I really want to make this work as it will make it so much easier when we go away and people need to look after the hens, less work and almost no mess to clean up.  That's one of the fantastic parts of this feeder - almost no mess at all.  I would say maybe 1 teaspoon of feed escapes the feeder per day - and the hens eat most of that anyway.  
Holly and Alice - they've turned their back on the feeder. 
We used to find rat droppings scattered in the pen each morning and over the last several days there has been none or almost none.  This is fantastic.  And the clean up at night is 75% less at minimum.  Even if the girls never get used to that foot stand, it will have been worth it for the feed saving and the rat starvation.  

Day 17:
Yes, okay, we relented.  The girls weren't even eating the seed from the feeder unless we were holding them on to the footplate and then stopping the footplate from banging closed once they stopped standing on it.  We kept coming home to find hopelessly hungry hens and it was driving me up the wall.  I have relented and put the feeder back in to phase one mode - lid up, foot plate down.  
The girls are thrilled and are eating relentlessly.  

At this point I'd like to revist the reasons we bought the feeder and whether our needs are being met:
Alice - back in business with the feeder
  • The girls flick their seed all over the place and waste a lot of it - fixed!  The feeder is brilliant, amazing even at keeping food in place. 
  • The seed is difficult to clean up completely (it gets in to the sand) and so provides a regular source of food for rats at night - fixed!  There is maybe 1 teaspoon of seed, mostly less to clean up each day.  There has been no sign of rat activity for over a week now.  This is the first time in over 5 years. 
  • The food is exposed to the rain and has to be thrown out at the end of the day if it has gotten wet - fixed!  It has been raining hopelessly for a couple of days now and the food has not gotten wet so far.  To be clear our chicken pen roof is part plastic sheeting/ alsonite and the feed sits under this section.  However this never properly protected the food previously but with the added protection of the lid, side plates and narrow opening on the seed access point, the feed has remained completely protected so far.  
  • Every night we have to thoroughly clean up the pen to remove excess seed, it would be great not to have to do this - fixed!  Clean up of excess seed now takes less than 20 seconds and is thorough and complete rather than partial and 
  • We currently have to remove the seed bowl every night and bring it inside the house, it would be nice not to have to do this but still have the seed kept safe - fixed!  We completely close the lid and leave the unit in the pen.  
 So I'm going in for 4 1/2 stars.  If something can be devised to cushion the closing of the lid - such as we have on our 'soft closing' kitchen sliding drawers, then this could be practically perfect in every way.  

Sunday 9 December 2012

Celestial Sunday - Part 6

Egg Peritonitis

I had a vile run of egg peritonitis in my chickens and the first off the line was my Celeste.  I first met my now long term Vet after taking Celeste to the local dog and cat Vet and getting referred onwards.  There are very few poultry competent Vets in Perth.  I could feel a grinding sensation in Celeste's gut and knew something was wrong.  Celeste was diagnosed with egg peritonitis.  

I have tried to find a decent, reputable and easy to understand on line article about what this is but so far nothing matches the requirement.   Pretty much the egg does not make its way successfully along the chain and the liquid contents (yolk and white) settle in the abdomen.  They begin to cause inflammation, resulting from an infection caused by the egg contents stagnating in the abdominal space.  It also results in egg being produced which have a flexible, weak, rubbery shell - not a shell at all actually, it's like extra thick tissue paper at best.  Often call soft shelled eggs. Celeste was more than three years old when her symptoms began. 

We went through some odd treatments.  I recall taking Celeste in to the Vet to get her abdomen drained.  Basically the Vet stuck a rather large gauge syringe in to Celeste's abdomen and this prompted beer coloured liquid to drip out like a tap - a cup of it spilled out on to the surgery table.  I was horrified but it gave Celeste a lot of relief at the time.  I remember she was unable to make a sound but by the time the draining was half way over, she was chatting away again.  

How to give oral medication to chickens

I also gave her eye dropper fulls of anti inflammatory liquid.  My biggest piece of advice to anyone giving chickens oral medication is to avoid pressing the hens eyes when holding the head still.  So, so important.  I gave Celeste liquid medication dozens of time and she lost her sight almost completely months in to the treatment.  I'll never know if maybe I was pressing her eyes when trying to keep her mouth open and permanently harmed her.  

Odd moments in the battle against egg peritonitis included;
  • When soft shelled eggs were on their way, they would cause Celeste huge pain and long drawn out pushing sessions.  The very best way to deal with this is to (and I recently had to do this with one of our elderly hens so I know it's not just silly, sentimental, mumbo jumbo), wrap the hen lightly in a towel - for warmth and to contain her and sit with her on your lap if she'll stay or at least close to you to allow your body warmth to keep her additionally cosy.  I had our latest hen wedged between the couch arm rest and the left side of my torso.  The egg usually comes out within the hour.  Just keep her warm, quiet and comfortable.  So Celeste would be wrapped up in front of the tv with me, laying a rubbery shelled egg on my lap - it was like a home birth of sorts.  
  • Celeste became egg bound (egg stuck just prior to exit) and I found her wandering the backyard, pushing every couple of metres and complaining loudly as she wasn't able to enjoy a scratch in the garden.  I took her into the house and popped her on my lap.  I waited for her to push and then pressed with a mild firmness behind where I assumed the egg was.  When the egg did not come out I stopped and waited for her to push out again.  On the third go the egg shot out like a bullet.  It flew out more than a metre beyond her and she made a sharp squeal to announce its departure.  I showed her the egg and she stared at it and then back to me and then back to the egg, chatting away to me.  Five minutes later she was back in the garden and very pleased that she no longer had an egg blocking her.  It was as though something very inconvenient had stopped her having fun.  She never let anything bother her long term.  
  • The constant infections finally wore down my girl and I remember sitting in the waiting room of the Vet to finally have her put to sleep (she was emaciated, exhausted, blind and couldn't stay awake more than a minute or two at a time).  But she would open her eyes and yell and carry on at the top of her voice - this was standard Celeste language for either; I'm bored/ I'm hungry/ I want to be in the garden/ I want to come inside.  Then she'd go straight to sleep.  Couple of minutes later she would bolt awake and start screeching again.  It was so gorgeous.  Even at the end nothing could get her down.  

How to put an end to Egg Peritonitis

If I had my chance again, I'd find a Vet who would perform an operation to remove her ovary.  A week or two and she'd be well on her way to recovery.  There'd be no months of pain, inflammation, medications, abdominal drainage, perhaps no loss of sight.  Most of my other hens have developed egg peritonitis in their first year or so and if I were breeding my girls, I would at least wait until at least they were 2 years of age before breeding them.  Many things will have taken their toll on a hen by two years eg. cancer, egg peritonitis (Celeste was unusually late in her presentation), diabetes, and it prevents genetic problems getting passed on to the chicks if you wait out the majority of the bad conditions and breed from the healthiest stock.  
Hens like Celeste taught me so much and her sacrifice and difficulties served to provide the hens that have come after her with greater happiness and better health.  Whenever I give my hens oral medication and I carefully cup my hand around their heads, carefully avoiding the eyes - I have Celeste to thank for this.  

Celeste - egg on the way.  My little champion. 

Sunday 2 December 2012

Respiratory Infection - Amelia Update

Stupid, relentless mycoplasma.  I think I jumped the gun on saying that Amelia was improving.  She found a legless lizard (pre battered by the dogs so it was very much DOA) and proceeded to try and eat it in peace in the pen.  She was relentlessly pursued by Selene and Rosa who wanted it all for themselves.  Amelia was out of breath and wheezing so hard.  She had only been chased for a minute or maybe two at the most but it was too much for her.

Her breathing was wet, hard, stuttering and laboured.  She was gulping down fluid and was deep red with a hint of blue.  It seems that when ever she exerts herself, even a very small amount, that she is quickly pushed to the edge of her limits.  She did however manage to eat the lizard in one big piece - so the chase was not for nothing. 

By the amount of food her and Rosa are eating, they both seem to be laying or on the verge of laying eggs again.  Which is usually a healthy sign.  I'm thankful that Summer is on the way as I don't think she could survive Winter weather at the moment. 

I've  been in touch with the Vet who says to continue with the anti biotic powder in her water.  He feels she may need another 2 or 3 extra weeks to get control.  I had this ridiculous dream last night about not being able to find Amelia, so it's obviously weighing on my conscience.  Perth weather has lost the plot and gone back to Winter storms, just as we're less than 2 days out from the start of Summer.  Little Amelia is outside in the cold and I'm worried for her.  I picked her up (after some initial avoidance on her part) and gave her a hug this morning and a bit of a talking to.  Not certain she appreciated either but hopefully my sub conscience got the hint and I won't be looking for her tonight.  

Amelia - November 2012.  Snacking on mash

I was reading a poultry magazine earlier this week which did a whole article about mycoplasma in chickens.  I was really interested obviously, as I thought I'd find some useful information about Amelia.  Unfortunately it was pretty ordinary.  The advice ultimately was;
1. Not to get a hen with mycoplasma to begin with,
2. Quarantine all new hens for 2 weeks to detect any problems (Rosa didn't show symptoms for nearly 6 months and Amelia only croaked for the first two days and then nothing more for months also),
3. Generally don't bother with Veterinary treatments etc as they may not be effective on the particular strain of mycoplasma (the articled mentioned 4 known strains) and
4. Although you could get the hen tested to detect what strain the infection is (I had Ruby tested for a throat infection for a bit over $100 and this uncovered three, simultaneous infections) you probably wouldn't bother for your home chook as it's very expensive. 

I would love to see someone tell that to a dog owner.  My feeling is, if you're not going to ever bother getting medical treatment for a pet, then either don't get them at all or have them quickly put to sleep with the greatest dignity and kindness possible if their condition is such that the animal is clearly in a chronic state of suffering.  Having pets is a responsibility, not a right and pets have the right to a responsible owner. 

Saturday 1 December 2012

Alice in Wedding Wonderland

December 1st is a big day for a little hen.  Today Alice officially enters the world of the Commemorative Wedding Chicken.  

We bought Alice in April this year.  Such a sweet hen.  She is very friendly and gentle but also curious and quite a chatterbox.  Alice's colour is known as wheaten (dark brown/ orange neck and much paler feathers for the rest) and she is again a Pekin bantam by breed. 

Alice had a bumpy start with us.  Alice and her sister Holly came with a grotty bug on board - Coccidiosis.  This resulted in blood in their droppings and dragged down their immunity generally.  It seems to attack the gut and results in lethargic and sickly looking birds.  It is also contagious.  We had our flock tested but they were thankfully uneffected, as Holly and Alice had been living in the lounge room- in a proper chicken hutch!  Not on the carpet or couches, I do draw the line somewhere...eventually.  Though I admit to allowing them out on to the carpet to play each day and that we may have taken a lot of video footage of their play time.  

Alice - August 2012
Alice and Holly had to have liquid medication, 3mls twice a day, for 7 days to deal with the Coccidiosis bug.  The first time Alice was given her medication she inhaled most of it.  I got a phone call and could hear her gasping for breath, coughing, struggling and on the edge of life.  Our regular Vet is nearly an hour away from home and they advised by phone that she be taken to our nearest Vet immediately.  Unfortunately they were in surgery so could not see Alice.  Off again only this time Alice had to go to a Vet that I really don't trust.  I took a hen there once and this Vet gave her the wrong medication, did not given her water or feed for more than 12 hours (surgery was not on the agenda, so there was no excuse for this) and charged me more than $400 for one night of errors, pain and ill treatment.  To say I was trepidacious was an understatement.  But there was no choice, Alice was suffocating.  

I don't think the Vet was terribly impressed with our attitude.  I insisted that they take instruction from our regular Vet over the phone and would not take their word for it that they knew what they were doing.  Basically the treatment when a bird has aspirated liquid in to their respiratory system is to place them on oxygen until the symptoms are firmly under control.  Little Alice was only a few months old and I can only imagine how helpless she would have looked receiving the treatment.  After a couple of hours she was okay to either stay overnight (no thank you) or go home to us for constant supervision and a supply of antibiotics to prevent any potential infection.  She coughed and spluttered here and there but she did improve over the next several days.  The dreaded part being that we still had to keep administering the liquid medication for the Coccidiosis treatment twice a day.  I got put in charge of this and it felt like I was trying to juggle blown glass with concrete gloves on, such was my level of anxiety that I was going to destroy poor Alice with one ill timed liquid dosage.  But we got there in the end.  She did not get a secondary infection and the Coccidiosis was cleared from her system - confirmed with a test of her leavings.  

In September Alice started to lay.  The sweetness of her diligently taking to the nest to lay her small and beautiful 40gram eggs, warms my heart.  Me going crazy because some of the eggs were initially streaked with blood.  It must be a confusing and uncomfortable time.  She would have been about 7 months old at the time.  

In October I decided that she may be the perfect candidate for 2 friends of mine who are having their wedding today.  Alice was nominated to be their Commemorative Wedding Chicken.  She is the loveliest little hen and I don't think I've known such a sweet nature in quite some time.  We love to pick her up as she chats away.  I'll say something to her and she'll chat back everytime.  Such a sweetheart.  

So I welcome Alice to the exclusive Commemorative Wedding Chicken group and wish the couple she represents a life of happiness, love, strength, unity and health for all their lives.

Congratulations L and B on your special day.  xx

Alice - 30 November 2012

Tuesday 27 November 2012

When a Dog Loves a Chicken

I don't actually understand completely how anyone could not love my chickens.  I intellectually 'get it' but I'm still blindly convinced that anyone who got to know my girls, would be unable to not love and cherish them. 

However I don't understand why our Jack Russell Madi, became madly infatuated with one particular hen.  It was most definitely puppy love - but with a big sprinkle o' crazy. 

The objection of her affection was our beautiful, brown red Pekin, Commemorative Wedding Chicken and pen champion (dictator), Selene.  It was full on, thunderbolt obsession.  Madi saw Selene and just went gaga. 

Oh we thought it was so wonderful and funny and cute and awesome.  Madi followed Selene everywhere.  Staring at her and staying close.  Selene learnt to ignore Madi and it just became standard behaviour.  

Madi had no interest in the 10 other hens we had at that time.  We'd never had a problem with Madi and the chickens in more than 5 years, so although a bit cautious, we weren't concerned about Selene's safety.  

The Paw that Rocks the Cradle  

(and other tacky, stalker movies from the 90's) 

Madi went true Hollywood, stalker movie character, bananas crazy in the end.  Why is it so easy to see this coming in a bad movie, but so much more difficult to accept in real life?

This obsession had gone on for 8 or 9 months and by that time we had moved to a different house.  I was outside, steering the hens from the garden back in to their pen.  Madi was around as per usual.  Selene was very close to the gate of the chicken house but then got spooked from Madi's closeness and me encroaching in on her to get through the gate opening.  Selene went to run and this sparked Madi off immediately.  Madi lunged at Selene.  She grabbed Selene by the wing and began dragging her around.  Selene was screaming and thrashing about, which only inflamed Madi even more so.  

I was screaming at Madi to let go.  I grabbed Selene and pulled her away from Madi.  Selene was still flapping about, scratching my arms with her claws and smacking me in the face with her wings.  I put her straight in to the pen and slammed the door.  I was really concerned that Madi would turn on the other hens, who were all coming towards the pen by then.  But the obsession with Selene held.  Madi had no interest in the other hens. 

I took Madi, led her out of the garden and took her inside the house.  I then returned all other hens to their house and finally cooled off.  I inspected Selene and found no damage.  Madi seemed to have grabbed a mouth full of wing feathers, rather than anything further down.  

A Lesson in Obsession

Like any obsession, it either wears out or blows out.  In this instance we were just plain lucky to have been there to save Selene.  These days Madi has forgotten about her crazy love.  She is no longer allowed to be with the hens in the garden or within reach of them otherwise. 

I guess sometimes we love our pets so much, we kid ourselves in to thinking that they've overcome some of their basic instincts.  It seems really stupid now that we let Madi live out her obsession.  But maybe it actually proves me right in the end.  Maybe anyone or anything who spends lots of time around my hens does inevitably grow to love them.  Even a dog.  

Selene, November 2012.  What's not to love?

Sunday 25 November 2012

Celestial Sunday - Part 5

Chicken Chauffeur

So I'm not recommending this at all.  However at the time I thought not much of it at all - other than that it was very cute and clever indeed.

As Celeste used to travel around with me a great deal, she became very comfortable in the car and established a very reliable routine.

I drive around now and see dogs clambering about jumping over passengers, over drivers, out windows - so maybe what Celeste did wasn't altogether, completely inappropriate.  

All of my hens now travel in a carrier - the same kind designed for a cat.  They have a towel in the bottom and a special water cup and food container.  There's a nice photo of my hen Ruby in her carrier when I brought her inside on a hot, Summer night.  The seat belt gets looped through the carrying handle, so they seem quite safe.  

In the Celestial days I didn't have a carrier, so instead Celeste sat on my lap whilst I drove.  She got so used to it that she knew exactly when to sit down and when to stand up.  At the traffic lights she would stand up, start to preen herself and when I got going again, she would sit back down on my thigh and wait until the next stop.  I never had to place my hand on her to keep her still, she just got it.  We can't even get our dogs to behave themselves half as well in the car.  I used to keep a water bottle on the passengers seat and when we were stopped, I would pour water in to my palm and she would have a drink.  

I wouldn't drive with a hen on my lap today but I also know I'll never have another hen who'd be capable of understanding how to behave in the driver's seat.  

Celeste - with the unwanted, newly covered armchair in the background.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Nice Day for a White Wedding

It's in fact a beautiful day to celebrate a wedding with a pair of gorgeous, white, Wyandotte bantam hens. 

Rosa and Amelia take front and centre stage today to fulfil their duties as Commemorative Wedding Chickens.  The civil ceremony for two of my great friends took place this morning at the British Embassy in Perth, Western Australia. 

Although unable to attend, the girls were suitably apprised of todays events when I picked them up this morning and took them from the lounge, back to the pen to be 'real' hens once more. 

Here they are last night, ready for their debut.

Congratulations S & E. xxx

No wedding jitters here, Rosa and Amelia - 19 November 2012

Sunday 18 November 2012

Respiratory Infection - Amelia Update

It has been two weeks since Amelia started taking her long course of general antibacterial medication.  It was a slow start and I wasn't very confident that it was doing any good.  Tonight I saw behaviour in Amelia that I have not seen in the year I have had her.  
The girls have a new 'Grandpa's Feeder' which is driving them all a bit crazy as it is still in the training phase.  They were all really hungry by the end of the day and were very concerned about going to the feeder, which was making a noise when they moved off the foot stand.  I went in to help them out and I had three of them finally eating off the feeder when I noticed a Wyandotte hen to my right.  I immediately thought it was Rosa, she's not a chubby, little bantam due to a lack of appetite but amazingly it was Amelia.  Amelia is very skittish and never sidles up to me for fear of being cuddled er rather caught.  I kept an eye on her and she was within less than an arms length of me and showing no signs of backing off.  

I brought Rosa and Amelia in for a feed.  Amelia has had a small to medium appetite so far.  Tonight she ate so much her crop (where the index finger tips are in the photo) was completely bulging.  She had eaten until she was completely full.  This is a great sign.  I can still hear her slightly laboured breathing from across the room tonight, but she seems so much livelier and more confident.  I also had a fair look down her throat two days ago and saw no signs of the white infectious build up of a fortnight ago.  And now I think about it, I haven't seen her swallowing in response to her chronic sore throat even once tonight.  Maybe this is the start of her real recovery??

Celestial Sunday - Part 4

Seeking a Friend

After about two years of being an only child we decided to get Celeste a friend.  Seeking a friend for a hen requires some careful planning.  I didn't want to get her a friend who was actually the equivalent of a school yard bully and I also didn't want her giving some poor, little chick a hard time because she was bigger and older than them.  

I went back to the suburb of Forrestfield, to the same little farm where we bought Celeste and chose a black Silkie hen of around 4 months of age.  We called her Sylka.  I foolishly took Celeste along for the ride, thinking she'd be so pleased to see other hens, but all she wanted to do was fight them and she gave Sylka a few hard pecks on the head during the drive home.  This is nothing new and in fact had Celeste not wanted to fight with the other hens, it would have indicated that she was most likely very ill.  Chickens love a rumble. 
Little Sylka was a sweet hen.  She filled her role as hen companion to her majesty Celeste very well.  She was submissive to Celeste but Celeste also wasn't very hard on her, so after a couple of weeks they settled nicely in to a positive relationship. 

Sylka was also quite a bit smarter than Celeste.  Celeste was used to having everything hand delivered so never particularly tried too hard to look around for food etc.  Sylka on the other hand quickly worked out that when I lifted the flap on their sleep hutch, that there would quite often be crickets and other bugs ripe for the picking.  I remember accidentally dropping the flap and really scaring her.  Her memory of the event was excellent and she took over two weeks to again be comfortable being front and centre for the unveiling every morning. I had to coax her towards it bit by bit.  

Sharing the rocker - now that's friendship
Celeste introduced Sylka to the joys of scratching in the front yard and enjoying the rocking chair.  Celeste even allowed Sylka to join her on the chair - providing Celeste had exactly the position and amount of space she required.  

Celeste no longer screamed at us when we left the house and she seemed to generally calm down and behave more like a regular hen, rather than a spoilt child.  My brother built them their own house and enclosed a good sized section of the garden for their use.  We also planted a lemon tree in their garden for some shade.  In the Winter I would get worried for them as their house had a tin metal room and the rain beating down on it must have been horrendous.  The logical response being to bring them in to the house, put down a towel, put their basket on top and reinstall them in their basket - immediately next to my bed of course.  I would get woken up by Celeste preening.  I swear that hen preened for hours at a time.  I still sometimes say to my husband that I would love to have our current girls sleeping beside the bed - but I'm trying to pretend that I've grown past that, so haven't actually gone through with it so far.  

A new pen with custom built boudoir

Saying Goodbye

Sylka wasn't a particularly healthy hen and over her time she had some weird health issues. A Protozoa bug got in to her gut but that was the tip of the iceberg.  She would often look really shabby and not grow back a healthy coat of feathers in the moulting season.  Later on another hen had the same problem and was given thyroid medication which helped enormously but unfortunately it was too late for Sylka.  She finally succumbed to cancer.  I really wanted to know what had taken her life as she was so skinny, lethargic and miserably we had to have her put to sleep.  It's only the second time that I have had the Vet conduct an autopsy and this confirmed the presence of tumours.  Probably caused by a viral, poultry specific condition called Marek's disease.  

Because she had been autopsied we decided to bury her without opening up the paper which her body was wrapped in.  She had only been gone a day so Celeste was missing her but I figured that seeing Sylka in her post autopsy state would be too distressing.  It was a stupid thing to do and I really think much of the decision had to do with me not wanting to know what state Sylka was in after the Vet had done his work.  Celeste searched for Sylka for days and days and days.  It was bloody awful and I do not forgive myself for not cleaning up Sylka and allowing Celeste to see her one last time.  Hens are very quick to work out when a hen has passed away upon viewing the body.   

One Last Lesson

Because of this experience I make a point of showing the hens the body of the chicken that has passed away.  I lie the hen carefully on the paving in the middle of the pen, the other hens grow silent and skittishly creep around the body, sometime giving it a nudge like peck, calling to her perhaps and after a minute or two they turn away and go back to their business and I can then bury her. 

The few years that Celeste had Sylka were possibly her most comfortable (she was never without her) and also her happiest.  I wouldn't keep a solo hen again.  Hens are very social creatures and deserve the constant companionship of another animal that respects and understands them at all times - not just outside of office hours.  

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Brown Red Pekin

The brown red Pekin bantam is not a colour I have come across often in Perth.  It is characterised by a stunning golden and black pattern on the neck feathers, leaving the remaining feathers jet black from the neck downwards.  I first saw a brown red Pekin at the Royal Agricultural Show in Perth about 6 years ago.  I was feeling particularly keen to buy a hen, as I had been saying for a while that we needed a chicken to commemorate our wedding.  There was no commemorative wedding chicken precedent to back up the buy but all the same she was a very necessary $25 purchase to ensure marital success (and it's working out very well indeed so far).

How to Give a Chicken a Pedicure

We brought home our beautiful new girl and named her Selene.  One thing that stood out was that Selene had some foot problems.  There is a really common bug that is known by the name 'Scaly Leg Mite'.  They are microscopic but leave a very visible trail of destruction.  They burrow under the scales of the feet, lifting the scales upwards from the skin at about a 20 degree angle and produce pieces of some kind of debris in their travels which then results in the feet looking swollen, knobbly, dry, dare I say it crusty and altogether a bit scary.  It must be very itchy, painful and chronically uncomfortable for the hen.  In Selene's case she was hatched without scales on her feet.  She is also missing a couple of claws.  So the mites had no scales to work with, but went about their hideous business right on cue all the same.  She's also got quite stubby little toes so this made her feet look even more swollen and painful.  
My Vet had set us up with a good supply of liquid medication which gets applied directly to the feet several times over a few weeks.  After several weeks the lumps and bumps from the mites fell away to reveal smooth, yellow (the right colour for her breed), chubby little toes and hopefully left Selene feeling comfortable and content again. I also trimmed back some of her nails which were so long that they had begun twisting at the ends.  They may not be the prettiest little feet, but they are in the best shape possible.  Six years later Selene hasn't shown even a moment of ill health since. 


Rant for the Week

It really irks me how some owners can clearly see there is something wrong with their hens (the signs of Scaly Leg Mite are blazingly obvious) and yet do nothing about it.  It is really easy and also cheap to fix Scaly Leg Mite and if treated as soon as the hen arrives home, the hen quarantined for a couple of weeks to ensure that she does not pass it onwards, I have never seen it come back so far.  
Selene - November 2012
I've also seen apparently well meaning people apply natural remedies to treat Scaly Leg Mite.  This doesn't work for me either.  Natural remedies in this case appear to temporarily moderate the problem but don't actually kill it off permanently. 
If you or one of your children had mites crawling around your feet, burrowing away, leading to swelling, growths, ongoing discomfort, chronic itching - would you moderate it and allow the pain to go long term or fix it permanently with a simple, short term and safe treatment?  Our pets can not offer an opinion on their preferred treatment, they rely on their owners to do what is best for them.  I guarantee if a hen was offered the choice between chronic up and down painful symptoms versus some oily liquid on their feet to cure the problem - they'd go modern medicine.  

Queen Selene - one hen to rule them all

Anyway, it's more than six years since our beautiful, brown red girl has come to live with us.  She took over the position of top hen about 4 years ago and rules the roost with a firm, feisty and committed wing.  During spring each year her hormones go large and she explodes in to this huge, brilliant and stormy bird.  Her comb (red part on top of her head - see photo above) doubles in size, she has the energy of 10 chickens and she gets herself so stressed out that she approaches us daily for hugging and respite.  It's the sweetest and oddest thing.  She pecks me urgently but quite gently on the leg somewhere to get my attention and isn't settled until I scoop her up, sit her on my thigh and wrap her up in my arms for several minutes.  She's so focused and concerned about keeping an eye on and keeping in line the other hens, that she needs time out to get herself back in order.  That's the best explanation I have for it.  

Selene - Christmas morning, December 2011

Sunday 11 November 2012

Celestial Sunday - part 3

No honey, that's a seagull...

Fantastic Celeste moment in 1998 when she was taken down to Lake Monger for an outing.  She was out on the grass, ducks and swan milling around gawking at her loveliness.  It was all fairly overwhelming for Celeste and she was wide eyed and staying quite close to me.

A guy ran by with his toddler in a pusher (stroller) and his little girl hung out the side and said, "Daddy, a chicken!".  He did the usual thing that parents do, imagining his daughter was having a three year old moment and said in a patient yet tired tone, "No honey, that's a seagull".   He glanced over and then did a huge double take, head swiveling wildly, staring back at Celeste, "No you're right, that IS a chicken!" and kept running, still staring behind himself.  

It was quite a day for Celeste as to get to the lake we first went through the drive through at a world famous chicken take away restaurant.  Celeste was on my lap and the girl working the drive through service was giggling herself silly as Celeste peered up at her.  Celeste enjoyed some bread and a bit of a chip as she made her debut at the lake later on.  

Just another day in the life of a chicken princess in Suburbhenia.  

Celeste - clucky at 5 months old.  November 1996

Thursday 8 November 2012

Respiratory Infection

Amelia Update

Amelia is still battling her respiratory infection/ mycoplasma.  She has been making a shocking amount of noise when she breathes and has been constantly swallowing due to her toxic, sore throat.  I have been trying to ensure she drinks plenty of water - as this is where the medication is dispersed.  She has been fighting me a fair bit as I have tried to tip the water cup up to her beak each night.  So I thought it best just to find another angle.

You can take a hen to water...

But she isn't drinking enough of it to get the full effect of the medication.  So I've approached it differently.  Amelia has a terribly sore throat and although she does eat dry food, she is equally partial to wet mash.  I imagine it is a lot kinder on her throat.  So yesterday when I made her mash, I sprinkled the anti biotic powder on top, poured the usual boiling water on to the lot, allowed the mash to cool and then gave it to her.  Hey presto, medication administered.  She's been tucking in to the mash and it now doesn't matter too much if she isn't drinking a great deal.  

I'm probably imaginging it, but I think she is sounding better already.  She is able to make chicken noises again, as opposed to making a sound as though she has a plastic bag stuck in her throat. 

I had her on my lap on Tuesday for some extra warmth - here she is.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Respiratory Infection in Chickens

Chronic respiratory infection in chickens seems to be the result of a less than optimal start in life.  Minimal shelter from cold conditions, lack of veterinary intervention at signs of infection, poor cleaning standards, inadequate feeding and of course exposure to already infected birds.  It can lead to permanent and significant loss of breathing capacity, chronic cold type symptoms - sore throat, wheezing, coughing.  It's unacceptable to allow any animal to live with these symptoms and this winter we have waged quite the battle against a range of problems.

Bantam Wyandottes

Rosa (left) and Amelia, Royal Agricultural Show, Perth 2011
In October 2011 we bought 2 white, Wyandotte bantam hens.  The first time we had strayed from the Silkie or the Pekins breeds in more than 15 years.  These two beautiful girls commemorate the wedded union of two other beautiful girls I know.  Yes, more commemorative wedding chickens!  When I went to collect them, they were very flighty and went bizerk when removed from their enclosure.  They flew hard in to every side of their cage, it was difficult to witness.  One of the hens (Amelia) squeaked and wheezed for nearly two days afterwards.  I was concerned that the rough handling by the person that retrieved her, may have damaged her in some way.  But then the noise completely stopped.

Rosa, enjoying the benefits of an indoor life
The girls clearly had been handled very minimally and even going within 2 to 3 metres of them resulted in them flying up in to the air, loudly protesting and at times hurting themselves as they flew in to the wire of their pen.  I took to avoiding them during the day but at night I would pick them up from the hutch and bring them inside for a feed.  They would sit on my lap, completely terrified but also very interested in getting the special treats I had ready for them.  I figured that if they associated us with feeding, that they would eventually stop fearing us so much.  It has been a year since we brought them home  - Rosa and Amelia and I can now gently approach them both, Rosa especially and pick them up without drama.  Rosa actually allows me to wash her whilst she sits on my palm and they both eat out of my hand every morning. 

The Wheezing Wyandotte

When Winter kicked in, Amelia and Rosa took a downward turn.  When I picked them up they both struggled to breath.  I had to hold Rosa with her feet on the palm of my left hand in order to ease the pressure from her body and allow her to have the maximum space for her respiratory system to inflate.  They wheezed a lot and their breathing sounded wet and stuttered.  It turned out that they both had a chronic respiratory condition.  This was caused by the presence of mycoplasma.  A microscopic organism similar to bacteria which is readily present but when a creature is kept in a less than optimal environment eg. too cold, unhygienic living conditions, poor food supply etc.  These conditions can compromise the immunity and allow mycoplasma the opportunity to thrive and take hold.  They particularly seem to thrive in the cold weather, when a hen is most vulnerable.  

Enjoying a night in the lounge during stormy weather
This winter has seen the girls off and on courses of antibiotics to keep on top of their symptoms.  Amelia has been particularly unwell.  Rosa seems to have gotten on top of it but Amelia, we can hear her erratic breathing piercing the night air and she swallows repeatedly due to a chronic sore throat.  When we look down her throat we can see white plaque deposits dotting the lining, indicating that bacteria are making a moist home for themselves.  

Back to the Vet again

This weekend we went back to the Vet again and this time Amelia has special long term medication that goes in to her water for the next three weeks. The additional issue here is that these girls have brought this condition in to the pen and passed it on to at least two of my other girls.  So I may be fighting this one for a long time to come.

Sun baking - the heat is a blessing for chronic respiratory issues
Buying new girls is a risky business, they don't come with a certificate of health and it can take months (as was the case with these girls) for undesirable symptoms to appear.  But when I look back, that rattly noise that Amelia made the first two days that we had her, was actually a warning of her condition.  I just didn't know what I was hearing at the time.  In the future it will be immediate quarantine and an ASAP Vet visit for any new girls who come with maracas in their chests.  

More updates on Amelia's progress are to follow over the next few weeks.  
Rosa (left) and Amelia
There's no throat lozenges for chickens, no Vix on the chest, no cough syrup, no chicken soup (!).  She is a real battler my Amelia.  I just want her to get better, breath normally, sleep comfortably and be happy.  This winter has heavily prevented her from enjoying any of this and if I'm frustrated, I can only imagine how she is feeling about this messy business.